Thought LeadershipThe last piece of an integrated PESO Model program, before you get to measurement, is authority—or thought leadership or expertise or whatever the heck you want to call it.

It’s your reputation, both online and off.

If you implement a full PESO Model program, complete with the full foundational work of paid, earned, shared, and owned media working together, it will be inevitable that you’ll build authority for your organization and its executives.

And you’ll have to create some of it on your own.

There isn’t a single piece of content out there about marketing that doesn’t extol the virtues of thought leadership.

In fact, it’s so prevalent, thought leadership, itself, has become a word most marketers hate to hear.

Test it out.

Tell a marketing friend that you want to be a thought leader and watch their eyes roll back into their head.

Even though most hate it, thought leadership is a very important part of a content strategy in today’s business world.

But what does that mean? How can it be effective?

Knowledge Has Been Democratized

My good friend Jon Goldberg, who runs Reputation Architects in Jersey, likes to talk about how thought leadership changed with the arrival of search engines.

He says:

Any sentient being with a thought and an internet connection suddenly has access to a potential audience of billions of people who now have a way to find them. And at virtually no cost to either of them.

He’s right, of course. Knowledge has completely and forever been democratized. Anybody can now claim to be a “thought leader,” anytime, anywhere, on any subject.

Therein lies the problem.

If everyone is a thought leader, no one is a thought leader.

This is akin to claiming you’re the smartest person in the room. If you have to tell people how smart you are (and we all know people like that), you’re probably not very smart at all. If one truly is smart, other people will define that for you.

The same goes for thought leadership. You can’t claim to be one. 

Being a thought leader requires a person to look at things a bit differently than most—a new idea on an old process, a new category, an innovative pursuit, or even just the opposite side of the way most look at something in the industry.

Thought leaders include people such as Brene Brown, Oprah, Dave Ramsey, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk.

They say something and we all hang on their every word (or used to, in the case of Steve Jobs).

Even if they’re wrong, we forgive them because they are right so often.

They set the stage for new ideas, new industries, new products or services, or out-of-this-world (quite literally) technology.

They also tend to be (mostly) very likable people, full of charisma, charm, and insight. They’re people we look up to and people we often emulate. 

You don’t, however, have to have a large, global stage like these people do.

You can develop your thought leadership (or that of a client or an executive) with a strategic PESO Model program.

Of course, you do have to have a different thought, but the charisma, charm, and insight can be created if you’re willing to spend the time and brain power.

What is Thought Leadership?

Before we continue, let’s define thought leadership.

A thought leader is someone who has ideas, opinions, and meaningful insight—and others must deem you a leader. 

That’s where expert positioning from the PESO Model comes in.

This is a tactic communicators use to build credibility for the experts inside their organizations (or for their clients).

The main goal is to become recognized as a go-to resource in your industry. 

It’s not for the faint of heart, however.

Becoming a thought leader—truly one that is recognized by their peers and even recommended by their competitors—takes consistent content that allows you to stay top-of-mind.

You want to be there when a prospect is ready to make a decision, which could be tomorrow or it could be two years from now.

The point is you’re there, you’re credible, and the sale is easier to make because you’re well-respected and trusted. 

To build that level of trust through expertise, one might create and promote educational, helpful content, become active in the industry communities—both online and off—and/or build an exclusive community where people can get the information they need to build their organizations or careers.  

Thought Leadership Is a Strategic Necessity

In an article written by Haydn Shaughnessy, “The Growth of Thought Leadership as a Marketing Strategy,” he describes thought leadership as essential as companies search for new markets, where they have no presence but see opportunity, and as they seek to defend their positions from competitors.

He describes thought leadership as a strategic necessity in an era of “hyper-innovation,” social enterprise, and social media.

Thought leadership drives new directions.

It pushes the economy forward.

It makes the rest of us think, question, discuss, and purchase.

Thought leaders can develop organically.

We’ve all known someone who is wildly creative, persistent, hard-working, and vocal.

Who has been willing to take the time to study and work at her craft, to learn from his mistakes.

Someone who has pushed past the fear of how it looks, how it should be done, and has produced magnificent results.

Or controversy.

Or both.

To some degree, thought leaders can be created.

The perception of thought leadership can be built using today’s digital tools.

We can create content marketing strategies to position our clients or our executives as leaders within their industries.

There are logical steps that can be taken to build an online presence by researching, sharing content, asking questions, speaking out, and building relationships in social networks.

Over time, these programs can yield terrific results.

There’s just one catch: thought leadership can’t be successfully created in a vacuum.

It doesn’t thrive without a degree of passion and genuine involvement.

People today can sniff out a fake, or a half-hearted attempt.

It isn’t just about coming up early in search or driving more traffic to a website.

Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship.

It should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company.

It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.

Sometimes, it can be executed poorly and can come across as phony.

That’s why it’s imperative that the person whose expertise will be molded must have new ideas, opinions, and meaningful insight—and that others must deem that person a leader. 

To Get Started, Answer These Four Questions

If you’re already implementing a PESO Model program (particularly if you’ve become certified by Spin Sucks and Syracuse University), you’ve already organically begun to build thought leadership for yourself or someone else.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to earn your certification, don’t worry! You can still do this work.

There are some good rules of thumb to use.

Answer the following questions:

  • Who would make a good thought leader? This might be the CEO, a subject matter expert, a client, or maybe it’s you. This person (or people) should:
    • Possess a wealth of industry insights and experiences
    • Tell stories authentically
    • Enjoy teaching and helping others learn
  • What topics would it make sense for us to write about (or craft videos or podcasts around)? Effective content, no matter the medium, is something that is:
    • Educational
    • Non-promotional
    • Helpful and engaging to readers
  • Where would we publish our thought leadership content? The answer to this is, it depends. But there are a few things to consider:
    • Newspapers and magazines
    • Online publications and blogs
    • LinkedIn Pulse and Medium
    • The company (or personal) blog
    • Speaking at industry events and conferences
    • Facebook or LinkedIn Live
    • Instagram Stories
  • Can we outsource our thought leadership? Do you have a team internally who can help you produce the content? In some cases, that might be you and only you. In other cases, you might need talented writers, video editors, podcast producers, and copy editors. If the answer is you don’t have the team or you don’t have the capacity, you can outsource the work, but not the thinking. 

Once you have answers to these four questions, there are three easy, time and resource effective ways to build thought leadership among a group of executives.

Expand Your Media Training

In many organizations, the CEO is the only executive who gets hands-on media training. Or media training is thrown together as a response to securing a broadcast interview. This is better than not doing media training, but it’s not enough.

To effectively expand your company’s industry profile, and shine the spotlight on a larger group of executives, it’s vital they receive media training before you turn them loose.

Your executives may be experts on their area of expertise, but that doesn’t mean they should be set loose to speak on behalf of the company without going through media training.

Even if your goal isn’t to have them appear on broadcast television, this training is still essential. 

Media training ensures they are able to:

  • Articulate and represent the brand’s messaging platform
  • Respond to criticism or tough questions without tarnishing the brand; and
  • Build relationships with the reporters you want to eventually cover them.

Broaden Your Corporate Blogger Pool

Your company blog is the perfect place to lay the foundation for your executive team members’ thought leadership platforms.

Unlike an interview, the final outcome you can’t control, you are able to craft the exact message you want and publish it under your executive’s byline

This is important because many bloggers and journalists begin their research with a quick web search.

If your blog is regularly publishing thoughtful, targeted content, it can put your internal experts in front of journalists who cover your industry.

I have a friend who was just the other day telling me the story of one of her clients who was able to get coverage in the Wall Street Journal because the journalist was looking for experts and found their corporate blog.

Craft your PR content strategy to include a regular cadence of executive-authored content both on your blog and contributed to relevant media sites.

Encourage Your Execs to Use Social

Although there are conflicting reports on how many of the U.S.’s top executives are regularly using social media, more than 75 percent of B2B buyers and 84 percent of C-level/vice president executives use social media to make purchase decisions.

Given that word-of-mouth is perhaps your most powerful marketing channel, it’s in your best interest to have more of your executives actively engaged in social, where they can become part of the conversations others are having around your industry.

By being actively engaged through at least one social channel, your executives have the opportunity to share their expertise and build relationships with customers, industry influencers, and journalists alike.

Being accessible in this way greatly increases the likelihood of your organization being top-of-mind when a journalist is looking for a source. Or a potential customer is looking for your type of business.

Putting It All Together

When you put the three together, you find that:

  • Media training prepares your team to join the public conversation;
  • Blogging gives them the opportunity to lay the foundation for showing their industry expertise;
  • Engaging on social media allows them to inject their point-of-view into the conversations; and 
  • Building relationships allows for networking, inbound marketing, and sales.

The combination of these three elements provides a strong public identity that your PR team can point back to when they’re pitching the media to cover your company.

With journalists increasingly being measured and compensated on the performance of their content, they’d prefer to interview someone who is a known commodity.

Building a strong public presence for your entire executive team increases the opportunities of your company gaining their attention—and earning that coverage.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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